Monday, October 15, 2007

Curmudgeon on the Civil War Blogosphere

Like most of you, I have a day job, and don't have the luxury of surfing the web all day and keeping up with all of the Civil War blogs that I'd like to. I have a few favorites - some of which I visit daily - including Drew Wagenhoffer's excellent "Civil War Books and Authors," Eric Wittenberg's "Rantings of a Civil War Historian," and Kevin Levin's "Civil War Memory." Other favorites and/or shared links are in the sidebar. My favorite weekly visit is to Civil War Interactive's "This Week in the Blogs" which is marked by regular updates and an unmatched sense of humor.

One site I visited regularly is Dimitri Rotov's"Civil War Bookshelf." I actually was first exposed to Dimitri through his archived interview on Civil War Talk Radio and not through his blog. I was intrigued by his thoughts on Civil War writing and scholarship, his opinions of the likes of James McPherson and Stephen Sears, and his interesting comments on his hero - George McClellan. Indeed, for the first time, I re-considered my own opinion of the much-maligned general.

I became a regular reader of his blog...unfortunately, the more I visited it and read it, the less seriously I took his opinions. Among his more recent statements, this one seems to summarize best his modus operandi:

"October 4, 2007 - "Living in Ohio's World" - "The baiting style of the Usenet troll has leaked into Civil War literature with this month's release of Blood, Tears & Glory: How Ohioans Won the Civil War. Looks like 604 pages (!) of mischief."

Has he read the book? No. And yet he has an opinion to offer?

I have read Eric Wittenberg tear a piece of "scholarship" apart from one end to another. That's fine. He did it after he read the book or article and he supports his criticism with facts and an estimable body of work of his own. Andrew Waggenhoffer alerts us to forthcoming books and provides excellent and honest appraisals in reviews on his blog and in print...after he has read the book.

This is not the first time Dimitri Rotov has "reviewed" a book without reading it. As aggravating to me are his regular slights of public history events and narrative history.

Dimitri has often decried narrative history and the state of Civil War scholarship in his posts. He protests that we - the author community - are not writing the books he wants to read. I'm sure it's fun to be "The Critic." It's also pretty darn easy. What is hard is to actually produce - through research, writing, and finding a publisher - a work of scholarship that others actually do find interesting. From what I can tell, Dimitri has confined his contributions to throwing bombs at other people's work without producing his own. It's also interesting that his is one of the few blogs that doesn't allow for comments.

Pithy comments are fine. I like "pithy" - thus the fact that two of my favorite Muppet characters - Waldorf and Statler - are featured in this post. Dimitri can be pithy...what I won't abide are mean-spirited and unwarranted attacks.

Will I continue to visit his blog? Sure. He's a frequent and committed blogger who often has links to interesting stories. Will I take seriously his comments on authors and forthcoming works? Hardly.


BigLefty said...


Amen to your comments regarding Dimitri Rotov's blog. I too get a little peaved at his pedantic rantings, especially when, as you pointed out, he hasn't written a book on the Civil War.

Bill G.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comment Bill! You know, I've heard it said that real genius comes from making complicated things more simple...not the other way around. He may use big words ("satisficing"?!), but I usually don't feel smarter when I finish reading his blog. Still, I give him credit for blazing the trail and for his almost-daily dedication.


Mannie Gentile said...


Regarding Dimitri's style, however uncomfortable it make make some folks, I do believe that education begins with provocation.

Ranger Mannie

Mannie Gentile said...

And that's: "may make".

Gotta start proofreading!


Jim Schmidt said...


Thanks for your message. You make a good point, but I guess I just can't get "provoked" by a title and some marketing blurb...I'd rather be provoked by content and do follow Dimitri more seriously when he does the same. He has some really interesting entries this week on the implications of corps command changes. Keep up the great work on your websites!